It’s a common phrase: “I am just so discouraged.” None of us are strangers to discouragement in our lives. The problem is when that discouragement leads to despair and depressions, leading us into a cycle where we grow content in our malcontent. Elijah, in I Kings 19:1-19, experiences a despair with which we may be able to relate. These events come after Elijah’s triumph with God over the Baal priests upon Mt. Carmel, and he immediately finds himself running for his life. In the context of this great event, the king and queen of his land turn against him and seek to end his life.
Elijah has had enough. He calls for his own death, but an angel visits him, bidding him to eat. The angel strengthens him, and he travels to Mt. Horeb where he pleads his case to Jehovah God. He voices his despair, and God reveals Himself to His prophet in the quiet stillness of the mountain. This quiet God reassures Elijah that he is not alone. God is with Him and seven thousand remain unfaithful to Baal. From here, Elijah finds Elisha and returns to his work. When discouraged, we can look to this story. We can see how discouragement works its way into Elijah’s life, and take heart that we too can overcome despair.
Causes of Discouragement
Elijah feels the strain of trying to positively influence and ungodly nation. He feels the strain of being outnumbered by his opponent. He feels the stress of national leaders turned against him. He feels alone as we do at times. We grow distraught over the influence we think we don’t have. We feel the strain of those who we feel should be more faithful. We sometimes feel all have turned against us. Like Elijah, our emotional stress can pull us down.
Remember, in I Kings 18, Elijah is outrunning a murderous king in a chariot. He later runs from Jezebel and runs a day’s journey into the wilderness. He collapses when he can go no further. His physical exhaustion brings him to despair. We are always running. We are always wearing ourselves out. We over-commit and run ourselves into the ground, and we can no longer give our best to our families or our God. Even Jesus would take time from His ministry for meditation and reflection. He takes time to be still, to pray, and to focus on God.
Great success can also lead to great despair. Remember how Elijah overcomes the priests of Ball in I Kings 18, how the people shout praises to Jehovah after that triumph. He seems to feel a personal obligation to maintain that momentum, but, too often, when we reach a plateau, there is no direction left but down. We seek rewards, promotions, and recognition, but these same accolades can pull us down again once they are absent.
The Results of Discouragement
Because of his experiences, Elijah personally isolates himself, even leaving his personal servant behind. He was facing his discouragement alone. Too often, we do the same. We don’t want others to talk to us, encourage us, or try to help us. In Genesis 2:18, God states, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We are created as social creatures, and it does us no good to isolate ourselves when down.
In I Kings 19, Elijah loses perspective as a result of his depression. More than once, Elijah cries to God that he is the only one. Proverbs 23:7 claims that the thoughts of our hearts define us. Judas experiences a similar progression of despair after betraying Jesus, and, in Matthew 27:3, Judas repents of his betrayal. His story, though, ends in suicide. Judas is unable to overcome the distraught his actions bring about. We cannot allow such discouragement to so distort our perspective.
Discouragement can also lead us to focus solely on ourselves. Philippians 2 encourages us to liken our minds to Christ, who focused on others before self. Elijah centers his despair around himself. Much later, Jonah will demonstrate an unhealthy fixation
Cures for Discouragement
In I Kings 19:5, God tells Elijah to get up. He encourages Elijah and us to take positive action. A small move in the right direction can turn things around. Just taking that action can set us again on the right path. Get up, take a shower, have lunch with someone, go to a Bible study. The smallest nudge can help us regain momentum.
Additionally, God pushes Elijah to mature. God demonstrates to him that great things do not always come from cataclysmic events. God is not in the storm or in the earthquake here. God reminds Elijah where to focus and in whom his hope should be placed. In I Corinthians 3, Paul chides the congregation to whom the letter is addressed, for being spiritually immature. Hebrews 5 makes a similar statement, reminding us that there is a reasonable time in which we should be spiritually growing up. Spiritually maturity helps us overcome discouragement.
Finally, God tells Elijah to equip himself, to get to work. God gives Elijah those to help and those who would help Him. There are times when we need to change our minds. Romans 12 encourages us to transform ourselves, starting with our minds. We may need to admit we need help, and we may find encouragement in encouraging others. Elijah would mentor Elisha as we can help others draw closer to God. I Peter 1:13 tells us to prepare our minds for action, setting our minds on God’s grace.
Discouragement is a part of life. We will be disappointed. We will feel upset at times. This life cannot fulfill our every hope and need. People will let us down. Leaders will let us down. We will let ourselves down. We look to something better, though. God gives us reason to hope and trust in Him. Romans 8:31 reminds us that God can deliver us against any power of this world. Verse 35 asks who can separate us from God, and Paul concludes that nothing can come between us and the love of our Father. We may be faced with despair, but we have hope in Him who delivers us from this world.
lesson by Tim Smelser